TOLEDO, Ohio – Joe Jaramillo climbed the staircase with smoke searing his eyes and the cries of seven trapped children ringing in his ears. But he couldn’t get any closer.
“They were yelling ‘Help us!’ but I couldn’t do anything. I had to come back for air,” he said.
Five or six other people also tried to get inside but were driven back by the smoke, said Hardy Thornton, a family friend.
The youngsters died after a fire broke out in a Toledo apartment Sunday afternoon. The victims were five sisters, their brother and a girl cousin, ages six months to 7 years, said an aunt, Natalie McGowan.
Firefighters arrived about a minute after receiving an emergency call, but met heavy flames on a staircase as they fought to reach the victims, Chief Michael Bell said. They contained the fire quickly after pulling the children out, he said.
Jaramillo ran into the two-story building and tried to get upstairs where the children were trapped, as the mother of the six siblings outside was screaming that her babies were inside. Jaramillo, 36, said he had been visiting his daughter in the area.
Bell said no adults were in the building when firefighters arrived. It was unclear if adults were inside when the blaze broke out. The cause of the fire had not been determined.
Jaramillo said the father of one of the children had tried to go upstairs with a fire extinguisher, “but it didn’t work.” He and the father tried to go up the stairs a second time, but the smoke and flames were too thick.
“Then it was just quiet,” Jaramillo said.
The Lucas County coroner’s office said Monday it had not completed identifying the victims. Neighbors said the woman who lived in the apartment with her children also had two sisters who live in the apartment complex.